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Low fuel prices have boosted US sales of heavy vehicles such as the Dodge Ram (Photo: Dodge)

(Bloomberg) --The US Environmental Protection Agency moved to cement existing fuel-economy and emissions targets before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. The agency issued a proposal that automakers blasted as "eleventh-hour politics."

The auto industry is “well positioned” to meet the 2022-2025 standards, the EPA said in signaling its intention to keep those requirements intact months earlier than expected. The agency’s action still must be finalized after a 30-day comment period that would close before Trump’s inauguration, but it could be undone by the new administration.

The move won an immediate rebuke from American automakers including General Motors and Ford Motor.

"It is deeply disappointing that eleventh-hour politics in a lame-duck administration has short-circuited a data-driven process for developing regulation," said Ziad Ojakli, group vice president of government and community relations at Ford.

General Motors said in a statement that it was "disappointed that EPA changed the process and decided to advance the timetable" for completing its review of the fuel economy requirements. "This unexpected action appears to dismiss the many comments and questions raised by automakers regarding the draft technical assessment report issued by EPA earlier this year."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry’s main trade group, denounced the EPA’s action as an “extraordinary and premature rush to judgment.”

But Obama administration officials and environmentalists took a starkly different view, insisting there’s no reason to slow down because automakers have the technology to meet the targets now.

“It’s clear from the extensive technical record that this program will remain affordable and effective,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This proposed decision reconfirms our confidence in the auto industry’s capacity to drive innovation and strengthen the American economy while saving drivers money at the pump and safeguarding our health, climate and environment.”

McCarthy’s comment echoes a technical assessment report issued in July by the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Air Resources Board. The agencies expressed an optimistic view about the industry’s ability to comply with Obama’s targets, which would boost average fuel economy in the U.S. to 50.8 miles per gallon by 2025, from 35.3 currently.

It is not clear how the Trump administration will address the issue. Trump has promised to rescind “job-killing” regulations, and Republican leaders in the House have warned agencies they will take a critical view of any regulations issued in the waning days of the Obama administration. The incoming administration and Congress have wide latitude to repeal or force changes in newly finalized rules and executive actions.

Trump’s transition team didn’t immediately respond to e-mail requests for comment on the EPA proposal.